Inlay or game piece, Egypt, 100-300 AD

Inlay or game piece, Egypt, 100-300 AD
Dating:100 AD–300 AD
Material:Glass (all types)
Physical:1.5cm. (.6 in.) - 1 g. (0 oz.)

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  This may either be a slice of a glass rod prepared for an inlay but never used, or a game piece. Of a similar item at the Israel Museum (#77.12.806), Spaer (2001:235) writes: “There is much evidence of the use of this particular pattern. It was certainly manufactured in Egypt, and quite a few examples are known from Egyptian and Nubian excavations; an uncut cane is in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo (no. 38325).”

Mosaic glass
The concept of mosaic glass encompasses a range of techniques that all involve arranging glass of different colors together, with sufficient heat to cause fusing of the glass but not so much that the colors mix. When this mosaic concept is used together with the drawing techniques made possible by the ductility of glass, the initial arrangement is miniaturized.

The manufacture of twisted or reticella canes is a simple example of mosaic glass and drawing principles. Stern and Shlick-Nolte (1994:54) explain: “The craftsman could make [twisted canes] by heating two or three monochrome canes and twisting them. A method now common is to pick up, one after the other, two or three chunks of color of roughly the same size and to shape them in a cone. Because the glassworker rotates the cone while he draws the glass, the colors twist around each other. . . Reticella cane is drawn from a hot cone-shaped bit of glass in the same manner as for monochrome cane, but before the glass is drawn, the glassworker marvers [to marver: to press or roll softened glass on a smooth surface to smooth it or to consolidate applications] one or more monochrome canes of contrasting color into the surface of the cone. . . Depending on the placing of the canes on the cone and the speed with which the cone is rotated, intricate lace patterns can be achieved. . .

Making canes with concentric colors, called ‘overlay cane,’ such as is used in mosaic eye beads, requires a completely different method. Again, Stern and Shlick-Nolte (1994:56) explain: “To make an overlay cane, one works from the center out, applying layers of glass for each ring of color. First, a chunk of preheated glass is softened and shaped into a cylinder for the core or center of the design. A second chunk or bit of contrasting color is heated on a second metal rod, shaped, and applied to the cylinder on the first tool. There are various ways to do this. . . 1. A trail is wound spirally around the cylinder. . . 2. A thick trail is draped lengthwise onto the cylinder and pinched off at the end of the cylinder, then a second trail is applied next to the first, and so forth until the whole cylinder is covered with trails of color. . . 3. the chunk of glass on the second tool is shaped into an inverted cone, fused to the cylinder on the first tool, and then the inverted cone is separated from the second tool and marvered onto the cylinder. . . When all the colors have been applied, a thick cylinder results that is heated thoroughly and lengthened (drawn). . .”

Mosaic bars with patterns such as rosettes or faces were achieved by ‘cold bundling’ in which pre-made bars or chunks are arranged when cold, bundled, and heated until the glass fuses. In the case of mosaic bars, the fused glass is shaped by marvering, and then drawn to miniaturize the design. Slices are obtained from the bars, which can then be used as inlays.

Mosaic glass appears to have been invented in Egypt, and Egyptian craftsmen remained masters of this technique, which became common during the first century BC.

Bibliography (for this item)

Spaer, Maud
2001 Ancient glass in the Israel Museum: beads and other small objects. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. (235)

Bibliography (on Mosaic glass)

Stern, E. Marianne, and Birgit Schlick-Nolte
1994 Early Glass of the Ancient World 1600 BC - AD 50 Ernesto Wolf Collection. Gerd Hatje, Ostfildern, Germany.

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